Title: The Mime
Author: Tommy Tutalo
Publication date: March 21, 2022
Genre: MG/YA, Fantasy
One Sentence Summary: Following the deaths of her parents, Florina becomes mute, but, thanks to an evil magician, ends up on a magical, dangerous journey with a group of performers to save her world and find her voice.
The Mime is a gorgeous story of love and finding one’s voice. It’s steeped in Mexican culture as well as performance art. There are heartbreaking moments and heart warming times, as well as an evil magician who will do anything to foil Florina and the performers she travels with. While I sometimes felt like the adults played too big of a role, I did enjoy Florina’s journey and the love she finds along the way. There’s a very interesting sort of magic that’s the key to this story, but, at it’s heart, it’s just a magical story of a young girl trying to find her way back home and to what she has left of her parents. The Mime tells a beautiful story laced with magic and danger, but also full of love and heart.
In Oaxaca, Mexico, a young girl named Florina lives with the widow of the man who employed her late parents. Rendered mute after their deaths, she’s bullied at school, especially when the drawings she does instead of her schoolwork is revealed. One day, Florina discovers the journal her father kept for her, one with secrets hidden within, secrets an evil magician will stop at nothing to obtain.
It isn’t long before Florina falls for the magician’s tricks. Before she knows it, she’s in a world both familiar and foreign, one where the magician rules and has stripped talented performers of their abilities. With a group of performers still doing their best to cling to their talents, Florina crosses this magical, dangerous Oaxaca to save her new friends, find her voice, and discover a long buried truth.
Where Tutalo’s Esperanza carried a vein of hope throughout the story, The Mime carries a beautiful message of love. Aimed at a younger audience than the books I usually read, I found The Mime to be magical with an overlay of danger, but Florina and her new friends develop a fast rapport, weaving a beautiful tale of love and friendship and the lengths one will go to in order to protect and save each other. There were times when the material felt slightly too adult for me, but I really did feel a younger audience would enjoy this. There are trials and tribulations, magic and stunning performances, and adults who will do anything to protect the young girl who has suddenly walked into their midst.
The Mime is a gorgeous story touched with magic that never loses its focus. There’s adventure and danger at every turn, and the characters always seem to be encountering something they must overcome. Their journey is not easy, but is necessary if they are to reclaim the lives that have been taken from them and their fellow performers. I liked how there was danger at every turn, but it never felt disastrously dangerous. There were also some sweet, quiet periods, and stories from the performers of their previous lives. Since The Mime is chock full of performers, there’s something beautifully artistic about how the story is told, especially since their artistry takes center stage. Their performances came to life so strongly that I felt like I was watching them unfold instead of simply reading them. It was fantastic to read a story that revolved around performers, that emphasized the beauty and importance of art.
But this was very much a fascinating journey. It started off feeling like a cross of Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, but the whimsy quickly spun off to become something all its own. There’s a sinister edge to it with an evil magician who truly is evil and power hungry. There was no telling to what lengths he was willing to go, so it made for quite a dangerous journey for Florina and her friends. I enjoyed crossing this alternate version of Oaxaca, especially since the groundwork of the actual Oaxaca without the magician’s influence is explored so well at the beginning of the novel and then woven in with all the stories the performers tell about their past lives when they were talented and successful. I liked the diversity of environments, and very much appreciated how desolate and empty much of it felt now that all the talent has been removed to the sole ownership of the evil magician. Yet descriptions were never lacking, so they felt rich and detailed.
I think the one thing I felt The Mime faltered on was the treatment of Florina. My heart went out to her as soon as the book opened. Her life following the deaths of her parents was heart wrenching and I wanted nothing more than to give her a hug. Her characterization was lovely and she felt very much like a young girl who has lost everything she knew and loved. I did love how she found a bit of herself as she traveled through the alternate Oaxaca, but I wish it had made a bigger impact, had been more of a major event considering her characterization early on. I also both loved and hated the way her character was handled as the performers entered her life and began to travel with her. I was disappointed as the story went on and I felt like she faded from it except for a few places where her presence was necessary and important. It felt like the adults took over a little too much, planning and guiding and making decisions while Florina was left to follow them. She definitely had a good deal of agency, but I was hoping for more of it. On the other hand, since books for younger audiences tend to focus on the child having to solve all the problems and face danger, it was really nice to see the adults step in and protect her. Their love for her was beautiful and exactly what they all needed. I loved that they were all willing to do everything in their power to take care of her, though I wasn’t thrilled by the drinking and smoking they added in.
As sweet as much of the story was and as beautifully as the performers and Florina came to love each other, there’s still something chillingly sinister about The Mime. The evil magician was quite a force to be reckoned with. There were times when I feared he was far too powerful, so I really enjoyed the end of this book despite its bittersweet, imperfect turn. I loved just how evil he felt, and I really enjoyed how his backstory was delved into and gave birth to this greedy performer who finds a hidden magic and harnesses it for his own ends. He added that truly sinister edge, coloring every page with his taint on this version of Oaxaca, crossing danger with magic in a most delightful way.
The Mime tells a beautiful story and I loved that thread of love that was woven throughout. The emphasis on the importance of art captured my heart, and it was a true delight to get to know the performers Florina travels with and their different talents. The Mime is also steeped in Mexican culture. There was never any question about where this story was set, and I felt like I was looking through a window into Oaxaca and how the people live. There’s a great deal of beauty in this story and the writing felt just as touched with magic.
The Mime is intended for a non-adult audience, but I found myself enjoying it at every turn. There’s adventure, danger, love and friendship, a young girl struggling to find herself and her voice, and adults who truly love the child they’re protecting. So much of this story warmed my heart, and just as much made my heart break. Reading this felt like an emotional journey, but I loved every step of it.
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Thank you to Tommy Tutalo for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.
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